Undocumented immigrants who are parents of legal residents or citizens will soon be able to obtain work authorization, a social security number, a California driver's license, and the ability to travel abroad under the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). President Barack Obama’s executive immigration actions also remove the threat of deportation for three years, reducing the number of separated families due to deportation.
Many of those eligible for new benefits under DAPA and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) live in Southern California, according to legal advocate Michelle Saucedo of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), a legal aid and civil rights nonprofit that organized Friday a presentation on Obama’s reform. AAAJ hopes to increase outreach to undocumented immigrants in areas where many may not apply for these programs.
New DAPA and DACA benefits could impact up to 5.2 million people in the U.S.—with 1.5 million in California—according to The Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Of those eligible, an estimated 900,000 live in Southern California, according to Saucedo.
But many eligible undocumented immigrants do not apply for the deferred action and benefits programs, according to Saucedo. Of the 358,000 youth in California who were immediately eligible for DACA benefits in 2012, only 183,000 applied as of March 30, 2014, according to data from MPI.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Saucedo said.
AAAJ is targeting “communities that have not come out,” Saucedo said. Many undocumented immigrants are afraid that applying for deportation relief benefits will “out” them as an undocumented immigrant and that efforts to defund or rescind the program will leave applicants with no benefits, according to Saucedo.
Among those notably absent in DACA applications were Chinese youth, according to an MPI report. “Although China ranked ninth among the top ten countries of origin of the immediately eligible population, it was not among the top 20 countries of origin for DACA applicants in the program’s first two years,” the report reads.
The low numbers of eligible Chinese immigrants who applied for DACA can be traced to a lack of coverage in Chinese media, a social stigma of identifying as undocumented, or fear of attracting government attention, New America Media (NAM) reported in August 2013. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—which was repealed in 1943—may also have created a barrier of distrust between some in the Chinese immigrant community and the federal government, according to NAM.
Saucedo urged all eligible undocumented immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley on Friday to apply, assuring them that any government attempts to deport the millions of applicants would be “political suicide” and “fiscally impossible." The more who apply, the louder the message to the government, she said.
“There is power in numbers,” Saucedo said. “We should take advantage of the programs that are here now so that we at least have some type of relief. And then it is practically impossible for five million people to be deported.”
Shui-Ming Cheer, an immigration attorney with the National Immigration Center, echoed Saucedo’s assurances. “I think we all know that under Obama, we have seen a record number of deportations. But even with that record number and a record budget for the Department of Homeland Security, they’ve only been able to deport about 4 percent of people that have violated immigration law. So unless somehow their budget gets increased by 100 fold, there’s just no way that they would have the resources to go after millions of people.”
To be eligible for DAPA, undocumented immigrants must be parents of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident born on or before Nov. 20, 2014. Eligible immigrants must also have moved to the U.S. no later than Jan. 1, 2010. Finally, those eligible must not be a priority for removal—they must not have committed felonies, three or more misdemeanors, or “serious misdemeanors in the eyes of Immigration,” Cheer said.
Obama’s reform also expands DACA deportation relief from two to three years, lifts the age limit of 16, and pushes up the date children must have moved to the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to Jan. 1, 2010.
While the president’s actions will provide new benefits for many undocumented immigrants, Cheer emphasized that they will not provide lawful permanent status or citizenship. Also, benefits are granted individually and on a case-by-case basis, she said.
Applications are not yet available and AAAJ warned against paying someone to fill out an application at this time. The application will cost $465, the current fee for DACA, and inlcudes a background check with fingerprinting.
Undocumented immigrants who are eligible for DAPA do not have to wait until next year to prepare, Saucedo said. Potential applicants can gather proofs of identity and residency, and criminal records if applicable. Applicants can also consult with a licensed immigration lawyer or a Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representative.